LOS ANGELES -- By the time the FBI caught up with her, Sara Jane Olson had stopped thinking about the fact that she had been a wanted fugitive for 23 years.
"There were times I thought about it, but not all the time. I assumed if somebody stumbled across me," she said, her voice trailing off in mid-sentence." "Now it's all that I think about."
Olson's words often trail off or dissolve into nervous laughter as she tries to express herself a year after her life as a Minnesota housewife, mother, actress and community volunteer was interrupted.
"FBI, Kathleen. It's over," said the agent who stopped her minivan on a St. Paul street. He called her by her given name, Kathleen Ann Soliah, a name she had not used for many years. She was being arrested on 1976 conspiracy charges in a failed plot to kill Los Angeles police officers by planting pipe bombs under patrol cars the previous year.
Her second life had ended and a third life had begun as a world famous defendant.
Only recently released from a court gag order, Olson, 53, was still reluctant to discuss much. She is scared, she said, that in some Kafkaesque finale to her story she will be doomed to spend the rest of her life in prison for a crime she didn't commit.
"I'm thinking about where I'm going to be in 15 years," she said Friday. "I'm not interested in any celebrity status, and media is to me a distraction. I don't want anyone to know anything about me. ... Until I was thrust into this I was nobody and I remain nobody."
But she knows that is a futile wish. Her story is of interest to many people. She is a reminder of the '70s era of revolution around San Francisco Bay and the Symbionese Liberation Army which became famous with the Patty Hearst kidnapping.
"The only reason this case is attracting attention is because of the presence of Patricia Hearst," Olson said. She assumes that Hearst, now a mother and actress, has no more desire than Olson does to be embroiled in the long-ago saga of the SLA.
"I don't think she would come (to court) if she wasn't forced to," said Olson. "...This isn't a contest. This isn't a fight between me and Patricia Hearst. We're both pawns. We're both being used for somebody else's ends."
She sees no personal enmity between her and Hearst.
"If it became personal it would be a matter of survival. Everybody has to survive," she said. "But I can't think of any reason she'd want to get me. And I don't want to get anybody. I just want to get off, to be vindicated."
Since her arrest, she has tried to maintain a normal life with her husband, Dr. Fred Peterson, and their three teen-age daughters. But she said that is all but impossible. She frequently flies between St. Paul and California where her lawyers are preparing for her trial in January. And she has appeared at a number of benefits to raise money for her defense.
"It's a life in limbo," she said. "I've never been on so many airplanes."
When she is at home, she said, she and her husband inevitably return to one subject of conversation.
"My 13-year-old said the other day, 'All you ever talk about is this stupid case."'
What would she do if she was acquitted?
"I'd go back to school, maybe get a master of fine arts degree," she said.
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